Have you been wondering what it’s like to work in the Autodesk BUILD Space, or what goes on in there everyday? The 30,000 sf research and development workshop and co-working space has been open for six months but still has an air of mystery to it. Located in Boston’s Innovation and Design Building, the BUILD Space has all the specialized equipment a designer could want, including 3d printers, multi-axis CNC mills, a waterjet cutter, a ceramics kiln, and a glass slumping oven. There’s even a corner for microelectronics. It’s a dream for anyone interested in design and fabrication, and the BUILD Space residents have access to all of it.

Designers from Elkus Manfredi Architects have been residents in the BUILD Space since the beginning. They’re utilizing the space’s resources – including the robust technical knowledge of its staff – to prototype key facade elements for an historic renovation at Emerson College. The Little Building, on the corner of Boston Common, is getting a full facelift. Led by principal Howard Elkus and project manager Ross Cameron, the project is rebuilding the aging facade with the newest technologies possible.

Neue Guild member Tom Carrier, leader of the firm’s 3D Fabrication Team (Edward Schelleng, Jenna Carolan, Kate Ford), has been focusing his group’s time in the BUILD Space on the iconic lion heads and other complex ornamentation that adorn the building. Originally cast and carved by hand, all the intricate facade work will be digitally fabricated for the renovation. Reconstructing each piece is painstaking process, and intense prototyping during the design phase is helping the architects get out ahead of potential pitfalls that could pop up during construction.

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Working off of 3d scans, photographs, and other historical data, the firm is collaborating with its consultants to digitally model each figure and tests them at various scales in order to refine the 3d information. Only when they’re satisfied with the end product will they approve it with the fabricator. Prototyping like this lets EMA test how light and shadows interact with each piece, verify that the shape of the lions and other figures read properly from the street, check their geometry for points of structural weakness and water infiltration, and determine exactly how the various elements will attach in the field. By working through these issues with physical prototypes now, during the design phase, the firm is significantly reducing the time spend reviewing shop drawings and construction samples for one of the most intricate parts of their project.

The BUILD Space is also hosting a variety of academic groups this year including two from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Other residents include start ups like LUMII, building glasses-free 3d image technology, and Little Sparrows Technologies, who are building a blue-light incubator for curing infant jaundice in low-resource settings. Obviously, a huge benefit of working in this type of open environment is the influence of the people around you. The most valuable part of being in the BUILD Space might not be the work you actually produce but the information and incidental knowledge you gather from your neighbors. If you’re interested in becoming a BUILD Space resident yourself, see information on applying on Autodesk’s website here.

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